R-MA Students Hear from Smithsonian Scientist

On February 9, 2016, over 80 Randolph-Macon Academy students gathered in Boggs Chapel for a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) presentation, “From Pixels to People.”  Dr. Peter Leimgruber, scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, talked about how geospatial analysis technology, such as GPS and computer modeling, can be used to conserve endangered species and wildlife.

With a multimedia presentation, Leimgruber was able to demonstrate facts such as the rapid shrinking of natural habitats and the estimated number of species that have become extinct and the way in which both correlate to the growth of the human population. A video of a tiger attacking a guide had the students gasping, while a relocated elephant traveling hundreds of kilometers to return to its territory made them chuckle–mainly because the black dot on the map, which represented the snapshots of the elephant’s GPS position, bounced off of a fence a few times before finally finding a hole.

The students were entertained and enlightened as they listened. Each one seemed to remember something different about the presentation when asked.

Dylan Glascock ’18 commented, “They used cellphone chips in the collars. I thought this was pretty neat because they could set it to make a ping every 30 or so minutes to track the animal's movement.”

Jared Keefe ’18 was impressed with both the cost and the value of Leimgruber’s efforts. While the devices cost $5,000, he noted that it was the same technology that could be found in a cell phone. "The tracking devices can track animals for up to five years and where they go, and that is a huge deal for science,” he said.

After Leimgruber’s presentation, he gave the students a chance to ask questions. Glascock was surprised to learn how Leimgruber’s costs were met. While his salary is paid for, Leimgruber told the students he raises between $200,000 and $500,000 per year to fund his own work. “‘I have to pay for all the trips and research I conduct, which usually comes from grants or private donations,’” Glascock recalled the scientist saying. “I thought this was interesting because I had figured everything that had to do with scientific research was already paid for.”

Next week, on February 19th, the students will have the opportunity to hear another STEAM speaker; this one will be Ms. Samantha Palazzolo from MITRE Corporation. She holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Interested students can sign up to attend with Mrs. Kara Lewallen at klewallen@rma.edu.